Saturday, June 27, 2009


Upon request by my dear grandmother, a blog update. The last few weeks have been pretty uneventful as I readjusted to village life in my new hut. Right before dad came to visit I spent all one day moving my things from one house to another. A moment of irony occured when frustrated i thought, "Why do I have so much crap?! I have to simplify my life!" Then reality check thought: "I live in a hut in Africa the size of my room at home. How much simpler does life get?"

So the nesting process has begun anew, one year down and one to go. (Really I only have 10 months left in Zambia!) I have a separate unattached storage room that i call a kitchen although I don't cook inside it. The clutter in the main house is reduced and i have room to stretch out a bit more. Fingers crossed--no rats in the main house!! However, they are in the kitchen where the food is stored, naturally. Just okay with me as long as i dont hear them munchin on my precious chapstick, flip flops, shampoo bottle etc. The drawbacks? Newish roof=WAY MORE BUGS. I have bites all over my body. Not sure what to do about it except keep itching. Also, the house is a bit farther from my neighbors so I feel out of the loop. They can't keep tabs on me but I can't keep tabs on them. So more effort is required for village interaction. I'm still working on this.

Teachers are no longer on strike which is good. Yesterday we had a meeting to plan for the training I want to have for PTA chairpersons and Headteachers to help them collaborate better. Topics will hopefully include leadership skills, communication skills, conflict management, action plannning, community mobilization etc. I'm really excited about it but its a long way off and just in the initial planning stages. We're going to hopefully write a grant to get adequate funding.

Monday I'm leaving for South Africa to meet up with two good friends separately, Cortney and Deb. Yay! I'm super excited to see them both.

Thanks so much for the bday cards and recent packages I received. Miss everyone!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Big White Man visits "The Middle of Nowhere"

Busy times in Zambia!
Dad just left after a whirlwind two-week visit. His catchphrases for the trip were middle-of-nowhere, wild and extreme. I think I dragged him around the country enough for him to get a good taste of what life is like in Zambia. It’s nice that now someone at home can truly appreciate what Zambia is like.

Dad flew into Lusaka and I met him at the airport with a friend who also had someone visiting. I think his initial impressions that night were of the cockroaches all over the place at the guesthouse and the awkward mechanics of mosquito nets. It constantly amused me what he got worked up about—usually things that I wouldn’t have anticipated him getting worked up about like the security walls around every private building in Lusaka, the lack of sidewalks, how people walk everywhere and the uncontrolled nature of livestock management in Zambia.

We jumped in feet first by hitch-hiking to Victoria Falls—my primary mode of transport—so dad could observe that its not dangerous, its actually faster, more safe and more fun, than public transport. We got two excellent hitches one with a Zambian journalist and another with a man who works for COMESA (Common Market for East and Southern Africa?). I always meet fascinating people when hitching. It’s a great way to meet interesting people and even do a bit of networking. The last 50K to Livingstone is a bit of a nightmare. The road is torn up because they are repairing it. Dad enjoyed that bit of the ride and by enjoyed I mean I think he was a bit terrified. However, that is typical Zambia. Crappy roads.

Our guesthouse in Livingstone was quite the upgrade from our Lusaka accommodations. Victoria Falls was stunning and we spent nearly a whole day walking and hiking around. Because it’s just after rainy season, the water volume of the Falls was very high. There was a dense mist rising from the bottom so from certain angles we weren’t even able to view the Falls. I walked across the bridge directly in front of the Falls and got soaked. We capped off the day with a sunset booze cruise on the mighty Zambezi River. It was Dad, me and a bunch of drunken kids. Fun times.

Dad wasn’t up for bungee jumping off the bridge, so we did a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana the next day which was really cool. And now I’ve been to Botswana. In the AM, after going through the border post, we did a boat safari on the Chobe River. We saw loads of hippos, elephants, crocs, cool birds, giraffes, baboons, and impalas. In the afternoon we did a game drive through the park for a different perspective.

Took the “business class” bus back to Lusaka. Unfortunately, a lot of the time was eaten up with transport from one place to the other over the course of the trip but that’s just how things are in the developing world, I suppose. Especially in a country that doesn’t invest much in infrastructure. The next day was another bus trip, not-so-business-class, since its not a well-traveled tourist route, to Petauke, my home district! Buses to Eastern province are somewhat terrifying because the road goes through some mountainous terrain, there is no shoulder, pedestrians (and livestock and baboons) are all over the road, and the drivers go way too fast. The good thing about taking public transport all over Zambia however, is the perspective and experience of what Zambia is like. While some tourists fly all over the place, taking transport gives you a feel for the country. We got a taxi out to my village after picking up some veggies and supplies in town. Yet another wild experience for Dad. The dirt road out to my site, while infinitely better than a year ago when I arrived, still sucks. We arrived just before dusk, so we had enough time to greet the neighbors, get some water and start cooking dinner.

The next day was really busy. We went on a village tour, met headman Chitindi, lots of Amais and Ambuyas (Ladies and Grannies), saw the grinding mill where maize is turned to meal to make nshima, and took every person’s photo in the village. Dad practiced some local language phrases and executed them with mixed results. Everyone was super-excited to met him. Especially all the drunk men for some reason. I’ve never really seen so many drunk men in my village but they came out of the woodwork to meet the big White man, Catherine’s father. One aspect of Zambian culture I enjoy is that visitors are given gifts! As a result, I now have a lifetime supply of groundnuts, a pumpkin and lots of sweet potatoes. Yum.

In the afternoon we went to Grace’s field, which is gigantic! Then we cycled 6K to the government school so Dad could meet my work counterparts. Not many people were around because in the week I’d been away from site, the teachers in my district went on strike. The strike was over the Rural Hardship Allowance, which they were not receiving. This is compensation teachers get for being placed in rural settings—it amounts to about $40 a month. Dad met Mr. Banda my main counterpart and we did a tour of the school. He gave us bananas and let us use his super tire pump.

We managed to get an extra bike for dad to ride so we planned to bike out of the village on Tuesday morning. Usually I would leave around 6:30 to bike to the boma. Because of all the visitors that dropped in and our tour of the community school in the village we didn’t get on the road until 9:30. It was hot. Two and half hours later we rolled into Petauke boma and Dad drank 4 orange Fantas. Needless to say, the 30K uphill bike ride is a bit rough the first time you do it. It’s a great way to exit the village though. I think the most significant “take-home” messages Dad got from the village experience were that I do everything on the ground, (“Don’t you want a freaking table to get this stuff up off the ground??!”) and the intense bike ride. Oh and the pit latrine toilet of course. Stay tuned for forthcoming photos because I’m pretty sure he photographed every toilet in this country. It will be an excellent slideshow presentation.

At this point in the trip, Dad decided he was through with Zambian style transport. Upon arriving in Chipata, our lay-over on the way to South Luangwa National Park, we booked flights from Chipata to Mfuwe. No more buses, bicycles, shared taxis or minibuses. Showed Dad around Chipata a bit, he met a bunch of other volunteers that were around. We flew to Mfuwe in the smallest plane I’ve ever been in from the smallest airport I’ve ever been in. It was so cool to see Zambia from the air. Luckily, the flight was 20 minutes long, because my tendency towards motion sickness did not like the tiny plane.

South Luangwa National Park is one of the best game parks in Africa and it did not let us down. The camp we stayed at was called Flatdogs and it was a really cool place. Our “room” was actually a tent overlooking the Luangwa river. Hippos and elephants roamed freely all over the camp, especially in the early AM hours. At night we had to walk with a guide. We did 4 game drives and one was half walking safari. We saw a lot of the same animals as before, including all of the “Big 5” except the rhino. We saw three different leopards, which is very rare. Our last day we saw lions, which was incredible. We had a couple exciting encounters with lions. During the morning drive we found lions just as we were about to leave the park. We had been driving around for over half an hour trying to find them in a place they had been seen earlier. When we found them, our guide almost immediately realized we had a puncture in the tire. So we drove a short distance away to change the tire. As we were getting out, one of the lions bolted towards a few nearby giraffes not 40 feet from us. It was amazing to see the lion go after the giraffe but we quickly realized it wasn’t safe to be outside the vehicle. We hopped back in and drove further away.

Later on the evening drive, we went looking for the lions again. We had a great guide who managed to position us so well that we watched an entire lion hunt of impala and at one point there were lions stalking on either side of us. They missed the impala then went for a hippo. It was so exciting! The hippo also got away but we drove right up to the pride that sat looking hungry and pissed off. They were so large and powerful and so close to our car that it was actually a bit scary. Our imaginations were thinking about some worst-case-scenarios.

We headed back to Lusaka via plane and stayed at a campground that also had various African animals. However, Dad was much more excited about the Jack Russells roaming around.

The day before Dad left was my birthday which was perfect. It was a great trip and I can’t wait to hear what everyone at homes thinks about the experiences he relays. Pictures to come soon I’m sure.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Zambia March and April 09

Sorry sorry! Its been quite awhile between entries. Over the last two months there has been a lot going on in my life and Zambia. I spent a few weeks in the village after Zanzibar then attended an HIV/AIDS workshop with my neighbor Grace so we could do some planning on how to address this issue in our community. However, day 2 of the training she came down with cerebral malaria, which is very serious and can lead to brain damage and death. Luckily, she came out fine, but I did spend a lot of the week at Chipata Hospital. I was very worried about her and it was a stressful week. A note about Zambian hospitals. It was like a scene from 1919 WWI hospital. They placed Grace in the psychiatry ward initially because they didn’t know she had malaria and cerebral malaria makes you hallucinate and impairs brain function. The nurses are all in very traditional nursing uniforms. There was someone handcuffed to the bed. There is no sense that patients have a right to information on their care and treatment, as far as I could tell. As in America, there was little patient to doctor contact. I think my neighbor got even a bit more attention because there were only 3 patients in the ward and because there was a white person hanging around and very concerned about her care every day. The other patients and staff at the hospital found this latter thing very interesting. They couldn’t imagine that this woman was my neighbor in a village far away and that I was invested enough to visit every day and pester the doctors and nurses for information. Grace is fine now though, luckily.

Also this same week, I got a call from another neighbor that my house had been robbed. She called me every hour on the hour one morning with updates about the ensuing chase to apprehend the suspect. My honest reaction was one of mild upset. There is nothing in my hut of particular value to me that is not replaceable. That’s not to say that villagers might love to raid my hut, but to me the things of emotional worth would not concern them and things like camera, ipod, etc I do not leave in the village when I go. According to my PCV neighbor, word spread fast to her village 6K away that there was a “green and white bag” containing “lots of money and important documents” stolen. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I began to doubt my own memory of what was in my hut. So Drama and more Drama over the week about my break-in. Finally, I was able to return to the village with our Peace Corps Logistics staff member in Eastern province (a Zambian to help me navigate all this), only to discover nothing was taken! He hadn’t even managed to get in the window! From the account, we gathered that what happened was someone pried the window open with my hammer, which I stupidly left outside, and made enough noise doing so that it alerted my neighbor, who chased him up a tree and threw rocks at him. (All at 2 in the morning). The next morning, they caught someone whom they thought was the culprit. He received a THOUROGH beating by all accounts, from Headman Chitindi (my village headman). Then my Head Teacher took him to the police station. He was eventually released because I said since he didn’t take anything I didn’t want to press charges. I hope the beating was a sufficient deterrent. From hearsay, I believe it was.

Today is my 1 year anniversary of moving to my village! It’s actually sad to think that I only have 1 year remaining. It also makes me think I better get my butt in gear and do some projects, haha. I manage to stay pretty busy but I want to step it up this year. I’m hoping to do more HIV/AIDS-related things. I also am hoping to improve my language a lot. Those are my goals for the coming year.

In the month of April, I spent quite a bit of time hanging with new PC trainees. Two of them are moving to my district, so I went to their new villages with them for the first time, to introduce them to village life. It was a lot of fun and made me realize how much I know about Zambia. I also found it quite amusing that these villages found my language skills to be really good, whereas my own village is tired of the plateau my language has hit. A couple weeks later I was in Lusaka to be a trainer for the education program. It was cool getting to know the new volunteers, 10 of whom are coming to Eastern Province where I live.

On Sunday I’m going back to Lusaka for our Midterm Conference, where my intake meets up to talk about how first year went and what we want to do the second year of service. Then back to the village for a week and then my Dad is coming to visit Zambia! YAY!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


birthplace of Freddie Mercury; mankind.”—Lonely Planet travel guide

Zanzibar. The allure and mystique of the name is only exceeded by the actual place itself.

Although it might seem like all I do is vacation lately, I am still a Peace Corps Volunteer. However, I just got back from the coolest place I’ve ever been—Zanzibar, a small island off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. We had a helluva time getting there—cars, trains, boats—but it was so worth it. I left my village on a Saturday and didn’t actually get to Zanzibar until the following Friday. We took a train from Lusaka to Dar es Saalam that took two and half days and went thru a game park. Zanzibar has a unique, rich cultural history and I think that is really why I loved it so much. It’s touristy in all the good ways, yet it retains so much of its cultural heritage. Historically, it was at the intersection of many trade routes and so the culture blends African, Arab and Indian influences. The architecture of the main port, Stone Town, exemplifies this as do the ornately decorated doors that marked merchant houses of the past. Stone Town is full of winding alleys that lead everywhere and nowhere at once. I enjoyed just exploring the alleys and all the random open store fronts. After not having been shopping for about a year, I got my fill of treasure hunting for African paintings, carvings, batiks, jewelry, etc. Zanzibar is also known as the Spice Island, because they grow just about any spice you can think of in addition to cacao, coffee, tea. We went on a tour of a spice plantation and saw pepper, cardamom. nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger, tumeric, vanilla and even more that I can’t remember because I don’t know what they were! Exotic fruits, including about 10 different varieties of bananas, also abounded. We tried just about all of them thanks to my friend Sydney’s penchant for trying really weird fruit. [We played lots of Scrabble on the train, hence this entry’s use of many big words]. The market was mesmerizing because in addition to all the spices and fruits there was a giant fish market. We had delicious fresh fish everyday. The food was amazing, especially the Swahili style cooking, which naturally features many different spices (but isn’t spicy). All of this on a beautiful Indian Ocean setting. Coral reefs surrounded the island and as one friend put it, “I felt like I was in a screensaver,” because of the white sand and aqua blue water. I also had my first margarita in a year, which solidified the trip as best ever.
The whole reason we went to Zanzibar in February, centered on a 4 day music festival, Sauti za Busara, featuring various African music styles and acts. The venue was an old Stone fort in the center of Stone Town, which was awesome. We really enjoyed the music, and I realized how much I’ve missed going to concerts! After a few days in Stone Town, we went up the coast for a few nights to hang at the beach. For all these reasons and more, I fell in love with Zanzibar. I really hope I can go back someday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Happy New Year!!

Veggies from my garden!

Lake Malawi

Crafty Kiddos in the village--check out those masks!

Its been a long time since I wrote a blog entry, so many apologies. Since my last blog, I’ve spent a lot of time away from my village, nearly all of December, so I’ll fill you in on what I’ve been up to in Zambia.

The first 2.5 weeks of December I was a facilitator at a training put on by an NGO for community school teachers. These teachers had never had any formal teacher training and none had any college, some had not even completed grade 12. It was amazing to see the pride and confidence infused in these teachers because of the new skills they were acquiring. I was thrilled to be a part of this. Topics we covered ranged from record management and using learning aids to lesson planning and gender-awareness. Basic stuff really, but they were so inspired by this opportunity, as was I.

After the training, I left with some friends for my 1st vacation to Malawi. Lake Malawi is a huge lake that takes up most of the area of the country and a good proportion of the population derive their living from the lake in some way whether its fishing or tourism. Malawi is beautiful, especially on the lake. The northern part of the lake is rockier and cliffs line the lake more frequently than beach. The south has more beaches. We spent some time in both places. Malawi seems more tropical to me than Zambia. It might get more rainfall, but I’m not sure. As a result, they have an amazing selection of fruits, which we were happy to enjoy: pineapples, mangos, bananas and avocados. Transport around the country can be quite difficult but I suppose that’s true for most of Sub-saharan Africa. All in all, it was a nice trip where we did little more than swim, play Scrabble, and eat amazing food.

Back in the village, Rainy season continues. The proliferation of new and interesting, though annoying insects also continues. Zambia is constantly alive with the sounds of various life forms that make their home in the bush surrounding me: snails the size of my fist, hundreds of types of butterflies and moths, frogs, lizards, birds and others. The air is usually thick with humidity, especially following a good rain, reminding me of my ole Kentucky home. Often though, mornings are cool and evenings are much more pleasant than in dry season when I woke up frequently drenched in sweat. The Zambians work tirelessly during rainy season and from sun-up to sun-down and its often just me and Ambuya (85+ granny) hanging out on our respective porches.

One morning on my way to the boma (town), rains began about half way through my ride. I frantically looked for a shelter but happened to be along a stretch of no villages, just fields. So I ran for cover under what looked like a dense patch of trees, hoping it would keep me, my backpack and iPod, and non-water resistant bike seat dry. My choice of spots helped me to avoid about 50% of the rain that was falling, but given that it was a pretty heavy downpour, I still got quite wet. Despite my rain jacket, I sill thought I might never be dry again. I was trying to focus on the beauty of the rain and all the life it brings from beneath my leafy hovel, but it was difficult. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself when I saw Zambians biking by unfazed, some with 2 or3 passengers per bicycle. (One of the true wonders of Zambia is how many people manage to ride on one bike). I was happy they didn’t notice me cowering under the trees. So after about 30 minutes the rain let up (didn’t altogether stop) enough for me to ride on. It drizzled on me for the remainder of the journey and needless to say I was a tad grumpy. By the time I reached town a second downpour had begun and I went straight to the Take-away to buy some chocolate and a Coke and contemplate how much Zambia would benefit from What usually is a 1hr 45min ride was over 3 hours. A repeat of this incident occurred yesterday and my gears were so caked in mud they were barely working. I don’t think I will be doing as much biking for the remainder of rainy season.

I want to thank those of you who write me and have sent packages, most recently, my mom’s Book Clubs, and PEO chapter, the Sawicki Family and the Yurikovs. Thank you so much!! If anyone else would like to send letters or packages my address is

Caitlin Johnson

POBox 560059



Magazines or books of any variety, dark chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, and Crystal Light drink mixes sustain me. But I love a package full of surprises! Hehe.

Thanks again and I would always love to hear from you!

Happy New Year! Woot Woot Obama!



Obama Haikus

Obama! They cry

As I ride by on my bike.

They see peace not war.


Hope and Change we think.

Policy is a big peak.

What can one man do?


They eat once per day.

A season of work, no food.

Their ache. My ache. His?


Hunger in their eyes

Security aint just war

Crisis aint just banks.


Black American

Africa sees the future

But the present looms.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November Rain


The first Real Rain of the season began earlier this week. Deluge, Gullywasher, Torrential. These don’t quite cover it. It began somewhat suddenly around 6pm as I was cooking dinner and did not let up for the next 4 hours. The last few weeks have brought sporadic showers, but not the real thing. This was an incredible rain and it was really beautiful. For the first two hours. Then I was ready to go to the toilet and brush my teeth along with the other things in my evening routine. I managed to do things from the safety of my semidry covered porch, and for the first time in two months I used a sheet because it wasn’t 100 degrees in my hut. There was only one leak in my roof, which was taken care of with a bucket, like in the movies. The next few days were cooled considerably though the humidity has definitely set in.

Rains mean farmers begin going to their fields to prepare the land and plant in earnest. From 5 am to noon, the village is a virtual ghost town because everyone between the ages of 6 and 75 are at the field. Except Ambuya (granny), age 84, who keeps me company next door, she on her porch snoozing and me on mine reading and listening to the radio.

Rains also mean new critters. I was pleasantly surprised to find few bugs in my life up to this point in Zambia. Apparently, insects accompany rains. Now its ridiculously frustrating to even have a candle lit nearby me at night, nevermind my headlamp, because a million different types of insect are flying towards the light. One particular variety, local name inswa, is a popular snack so people make a big fire to catch as many as possible and roast. I haven’t yet tried this “delicacy.” I’m too annoyed at them to bother catching them. Snakes and Scorpions are also new hazards brought by the rains. I’ve been told I can no longer go to the toilet or bathe in the dark because you never know when one might be hiding. I had found a few small scorpions in my hut and didn’t see what the big deal was after I squashed them under my shoe. Then I encountered a scorpion the size of my hand and a shiver went down my spine. They can be lethal and I am now fearing.

Rain brings Mangos. Since the day I stepped off the plane into Zambia, Mango season has been built up so that I believed it would change my life for the better. It makes rainy season worth it. With the recent showers, mangos have begun to ripen. Various children brought me a couple as they returned from the field each day this week. They are very tasty, however after what started as a slight itchiness and irritation in the corners of my mouth, escalated over the last week to become a very irritated allergic reaction around my mouth and chin. I’ve been told this is a common PC allergy. So no mangos for this PCV. Honestly, they are kind of difficult to eat. More trouble than its worth, is what I’m trying to tell myself.

Rain has made gardening MUCH easier. Though possibly less satisfying in a way. My water hauling muscles will go away and I won’t spend an hour in the AM and PM watering the garden. Interestingly, the squash and zucchini I’m growing are doing beautifully and the Lepu, a Zambian staple vegetable has all died. My onions are still small and they’ll probably be harvestable in 4-6 weeks, although I really have no idea.
Work stuff is going okay. I spent way too much time in the hot season biking to schools to observe classes. I’ve had two successful community meetings recently though. At two different schools I met with communities to sensitize them on education. This basically means encouraging them to pay the volunteer teachers, send their kids to school and be involved in school development like building projects. The turnout was great at both meetings and people were really receptive. The skeptic in me knows this is at least in part because I’m a white lady to gawk at and has the potential to be a donor, at least in their minds. However, if the end effect is further development of the school in some way, it’s worth it I suppose.

This week I’m attending a training of trainers, or TOT. So I’ll be out of my village for more than a week. It’s a nice break.

American election day was really exciting and we had a party full of American food and CNN. About 9 of us volunteers met up at a guesthouse where we could watch CNN all night long. We made cheeseburgers and fries and apple pie. Our patriotism was excessive, as we decorated our bikes with American flags. I was up almost the whole night eating up all the political commentary (if you don’t know, I’m a closet political junkie). The next day, Zambians were shouting, “Obama! Obama!” as we rode around town. It was pretty exciting. Maybe Obama, will reverse all the funding cuts for Peace Corps….

That’s all for now, maybe more later this week. Happy Thanksgiving!!
Love, CJ